Homecoming

Derrick Bolton returns to Stanford GSB with a new role — associate dean for external relations — and a new perspective.

July 09, 2020

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Derrick Bolton. Credit: HelloVon

“I always enjoyed the art of reading applications and crafting each class,” says Derrick Bolton, “but I charged my battery by connecting with alumni.” | HelloVon

For 15 years, Derrick Bolton served as the Stanford GSB director of admissions. In that time he and his team read more than 90,000 applications, ultimately selecting 6,000 students for admission. That group Bolton admitted includes more than 45% of the school’s women alumni. Virtually all of those 6,000 received a call from Bolton personally to let them know they’d been accepted.

Bolton left the business school in 2016 to design and built the admission process for Stanford University’s Knight-Hennessy Scholars program. On June 15, Bolton returned to Stanford GSB as associate dean for external relations, and he takes on the job in unprecedented times.

What made you want to come back to Stanford GSB?

I love the GSB and have loved the GSB since my time as a student there. The entire time I worked in admission, I always enjoyed the art of reading applications and crafting each class, but I charged my battery by connecting with alumni. I used that as the fuel for selecting the next group.

What is it about working with alumni that attracts you?

Any day I have a chance to Zoom with alums is a good day. It’s an extended family, and that has always brought me joy. And they always teach me something. Every time. Some are doing investing, some are focused on people, some are thinking about health care. Every time I have a conversation, I feel like I’m getting smarter.

What will you take from your experience at Knight-Hennessy when you return to Stanford GSB?

The four-year period that I spent at Knight-Hennessy was an education in Stanford University more broadly. I had a chance to build on ties with friends across the university and to meet faculty in different schools. I think it’s natural in development and alumni relations roles that there should be strong ties across the university. In my new role here, I have a perspective as a GSB citizen first and foremost, but also an improved understanding of how we fit within the whole university.

Are there any changes you’ve been thinking about in terms of how Stanford GSB relates to alumni?

Too soon to tell. I know the GSB has changed in four years, so first I have to figure out what the school is today. I’m having conversations with everybody in alumni relations and development, and of course with faculty, colleagues around the GSB, and alumni.

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Any day I have a chance to Zoom with alums is a good day.
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Derrick Bolton

The COVID-19 crisis has been revealing about some of our assumptions on gathering and communicating. For example, we never held virtual board meetings, which meant that the cadence for our meeting dates revolved around being able to gather in person. Now everyone sees that we can keep boards engaged without meeting in person. Also, reunions will remain a point of pride and focus for our alums, but I think we will need to learn how we can nurture those bonds virtually.

What’s something that people would be surprised to know about you?

I don’t think there’s much that would be really surprising. It’s obvious I love education, so when I’m not at Stanford, my volunteer activities are primarily in the field of education, with Stanford Graduate School of Education, the Nueva School, where I’ve been a trustee for a decade, and the Making Waves Foundation, whose board I joined recently.

One thing people might not know is that I’m an Anglophile. Queen Elizabeth is just about my favorite person in the world. She reminds me of my mother — that stalwart, put-your-head-down-and-do-your-work attitude, duty and service, and always in gloves. That extends to Pimm’s Cups, Downton Abbey, Jane Austen’s work, Shakespeare, and even Belgravia, which is my current guilty pleasure. Oh my gosh, it’s terrible and you shouldn’t miss it.

You seem to be a positive and optimistic person. What keeps you up at night?

I worry about the big things. Inequality in terms of income and especially opportunity, sustainability and climate change, about education. I worry about the health of our political system and I worry about the lack of civility in society more generally. I worry about opportunities for the next generation and their access to education. When I talk to people who perhaps don’t think they belong here, I try to make them aware that Stanford is an option and the GSB is an option, and to encourage them to dream bigger.

How are you spending your free time during the pandemic?

Mostly on Zoom. I love to read, and I was hoping that it would give me a chance to tackle some of the books on my list, but that just isn’t happening. I order so many books that I never read. My favorite day when I was a kid was Scholastic Day. I don’t know if you —

Scholastic Books, the book form: “Mom, how many books can I get?”

Yes, exactly, the book form. That was my favorite thing. My mom was a reading teacher, so when Scholastic Day came, she was like, “Yeah, whatever you want.” I could order literally every single book that was on the list. And when they arrived, that was my very favorite thing as a kid. Getting all those books. And I guess that notion has carried over, in a way, to my work here. When the students arrive every year, that’s like Scholastic Day.

— Mary Duan

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